Machar associate issues threat to Kenyans living in S. Sudan
The decision to deport the spokesman of the South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar from Nairobi to Juba could jeopardise the lives of Kenyans working in the troubled nation.
While Dr Machar, a former vice-president who fled the country after a fresh round of violence rocked the country in July, was diplomatic in his statement on Friday, his deputy military spokesman Dickson Gatluak issued an open threat to Kenyans living in South Sudan.
Speaking to the Nation from Ethiopia, Major Gatluak said they would target Kenyans in South Sudan if the Juba government harms James Gatdet.
“If they do anything to harm Gatdet we will also deal with Kenyans in our territories,” Major Gatluak said, though he was quick to clarify that no decision had been reached on the next course of action.
Though Major Gatluak said he is not aware of the harassment of Kenyans, he urged Kenyans in territories controlled by the rebels to remain indoors.
“We have asked Kenyans to remain indoors. However, if Gatdet is harmed we will take action on Kenyans in Jonglei, Unity State and Upper Nile,” the deputy military spokesman said.
“We are in talks with different peace partners including IGAD of which Kenya is a member to have Gatdet released unharmed. If Gatdet is going to be killed then we are going to take action because we are everywhere in South Sudan, including around Juba,” he added.
Since Mr Gatdet was deported, there have been reports that at least 11 Kenyans have had their passports confiscated. The spokesman, who has been staying in Nairobi, was picked up on Wednesday from his Lavington home by Kenyan security personnel. He was then transferred to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport from where he was deported to Juba on Friday.
“James Gatdet is under detention by the National Security Service of South Sudan in Jebel area. We are communicating with some of his relatives who are there. The government of Kenya was totally wrong. You cannot deport somebody to an enemy territory. What Kenya did is like terrorism. The request was to take him to Pagan where we could protect him but instead the Kenyan Government decided to hand him over to the enemy. It is very unfortunate for Kenya Government to do such a thing,” Major Gatluak said.
His deportation is suspected to be linked to a Facebook post in which he supported the sacking of the commander of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss) Lt-Gen Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon following an investigation that revealed serious shortcomings by the 16,000 peacekeepers during an attack by South Sudanese troops on civilians in July. Kenya had about 1,300 peacekeepers in South Sudan.
The dismissal of the Kenyan officer, whom the UN blamed for inaction during the violence in Juba in July, sparked the withdrawal of its peacekeeping forces which Kenya sent to the UN Mission in South Sudan in 2011.
“We welcome the change in the UNMISS Force Command in South Sudan. The peacekeepers failed to protect civilians during the crisis right in the capital, Juba, and in other parts of the country, more notably also in Malakal,” Gatdet had posted on his Facebook page.
“We hope that a new Force Commander will be appointed soon who will be more responsive and take action to protect the civilians at risk in exercising their mandate. We commend the action taken by the United Nations Secretary- General, which we believe will contribute to confidence building among the vulnerable population in South Sudan.”
Kenyan anger at the decision was stoked by the fact Lt-Gen Ondieki had been on post for only three weeks before the attack on the compound hosting foreign workers. His British and Chinese deputies, who both hail from countries that sit on the UN Security Council, were not affected by the disciplinary action.
In the meantime, the decision to withdraw Kenyan forces and disengage from the peace process has seriously hit the peacekeeping force. US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that his government was conferring with Kenya over the move.
“We are continuing to talk to the Kenyans about their intentions,” Mr Toner had said at a press briefing in Washington on Friday. “We don’t want to see Unmiss compromised in terms of troop numbers on the ground,” the State Department spokesman added.
A source familiar with the deliberations that took place at the UN ahead of the decision to drop Lt-Gen Ondieki said the American government exerted pressure for steps to be taken against the troop commander and the Unmiss civilian chief Ellen Loj of Norway.
The source, who requested anonymity, said the main cause of American anger was the fact that one of the women who was raped by rampaging South Sudanese soldiers and several of the men who were beaten on July 11 were agents of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Particularly after the Associated Press published a detailed account of the attack on August 15, Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, piled pressure at a reluctant Ban Ki-moon to take steps against the leadership at Unmiss.